After man says he fired in self-defense, jury clears two of murder in Norfolk shooting
Rakim “Rah” Nottingham told jurors he shot a man four times in the back and once in the back of the head in self-defense.
Prosecutor Ramin Fatehi turned his back to the 22-year-old defendant, reaching his arms behind him to point to all the places where Nottingham shot 25-year-old Felix “J.R.” Smallwood in the 700 block of Kimball Court on May 24, 2015.
Here – back. Here – neck. Here – the very back of his head. “Yes,” the defendant said.
“Yes,” Nottingham said again.
Jurors believed him. On Friday evening, after 5½ hours of deliberations, they acquitted Nottingham and his co-defendant, Dashawn “Shawn” Medley, of murder and gun charges.
Medley’s mother, Shyesha Scott, waited in the courtroom gallery as Circuit Judge Jerrauld Jones read the verdicts: not guilty on all counts.
“Oh, my God. My heart dropped,” she said. “I thank the jury because it was honest.”
The verdicts came after Nottingham testified Thursday that Smallwood was facing him, just a few feet away, when he saw the butt of a gun bulging out of Smallwood’s front, right pocket. Nottingham told Medley, “He got a gun.”
Then Smallwood reached for it, he said.
“I went for my gun,” Nottingham said. “I just shot.”
He and Medley fled.
Fifteen months later, after a witness talked to Norfolk detectives, the two were arrested. During a trial that began Tuesday, jurors had to sort out witness testimony that was vastly different.
Nottingham’s account more or less matched what the mother of his twins, 20-year-old Sophia Algahem, said happened. She testified Nottingham only fired after Smallwood reached for what she thought was a gun. Right behind Nottingham, she ducked.
Smallwood didn’t run; Nottingham didn’t chase him, Algahem told jurors. It was over in a matter of seconds once Smallwood fell to the ground.
“(Nottingham) never got over him, never shot him after he fell,” she said.
After the trial, one juror – who asked that her name not be used – said she knew before deliberations began that she was going to acquit. She said Algahem and Nottingham were both “credible,” while the prosecution’s witnesses were “horrible.”
The criminal record of the prosecution’s star witness, Jahteek Russell, didn’t bother her, she said. But, she added, the fact that his story changed between his August 2016 interview with detectives, an earlier court appearance and March, and finally at this week’s trial hurt his credibility.
Other jurors wanted to hold someone accountable for the fact that a young man died, the juror said. But once they reviewed the evidence and talked about how the prosecution must prove the defendants’ guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, they decided it hadn’t.
That doesn’t mean jurors believed Nottingham killed Smallwood in self-defense, she said. It just means prosecutors didn’t prove otherwise.
“We did the best we could with the system that we have and the evidence we had,” she said.
The prosecution’s star witness, Jahteek Russell, told jurors he and Smallwood had driven to Kimball Court in Grandy Village to buy marijuana. As they drove up, they spotted Nottingham and Medley.
After Smallwood walked off to buy the weed, Medley said he was going to kill him, angry that Smallwood had threatened to do the same the year before, Russell testified. Russell said he managed to talk him out of it, but then Nottingham got worked up about how Smallwood had supposedly pulled a gun on his cousin.
Nottingham told jurors that he and Medley didn’t say anything bad about Smallwood while he was gone.
When Smallwood came back, Nottingham and Medley walked to confront him, Russell testified. Smallwood tried to calm things down, even putting his hands up to show Nottingham and Medley he didn’t want any trouble.
Then he bolted, Russell said.
But Medley chased him, firing a single shot before retreating toward a car and telling Nottingham to come with him, Russell said.
Instead, Russell said, Nottingham picked up the chase, firing until Smallwood fell, then standing over him and firing several more times.
Another witness, Casey Johnson, testified he was walking through Grandy Village to buy a shot of liquor from “the shot lady” when he heard gunfire. He took cover behind a trash can before looking around. He watched Nottingham, Medley a few feet behind him, standing over Smallwood.
Then, Johnson said, Nottingham fired two or three times at the man on the ground. But the juror said that, like Russell, Johnson wasn’t a believable witness.
Nottingham testified he was the only one who fired a gun. Smallwood never got a shot off, and Medley didn’t shoot at all. Nottingham testified that, as far as he knows, Medley didn’t have a gun that night.
Nottingham isn’t out of the woods yet. He still faces felony charges in Virginia Beach: robbery, rape, malicious wounding and related gun counts.
Medley is going home after 14 months in jail, his mother said.
First thing up: a big hug, she said. Second thing up: better friends.
Jonathan Edwards, 757-446-2536, firstname.lastname@example.org